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Monthly Carcanet Books

This review is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

UNEXPECTED DISCLOSURES JOHN ASH, Two Books: The Anatolikon / To the City (Carcanet) £9.95

The first line of John Ash's new double volume is `They said: "Why do you want to go that place? There is nothing to see."' It is an opening that is certainly consistent with most of Ash's previous Carcanet books which began either with journeys to new places or evocations of imaginary landscapes. It would be tempting to read the question in the light of those books and argue that `that place' is the plainer and more direct style of Two Books. However, taking the opposite route and re-reading the earlier collections in the light of Two Books makes clear that, with the exception of the formal experiments of Disbelief, Ash's earlier poetry always was pretty plain and direct. It was his tendency to be plain and direct about such things as imaginary places, atmospheres, lost civilisations and what music can evoke and in a style indebted to both surrealism and symbolism that led critics to class him as `experimental' or `postmodern'. In the words of `My Poetry' from To the City, `I always thought / it was just my heart talking about the things / I loved and hated, hated and loved...'

The voice of the heart audible throughout Two Books is highly reminiscent of forgotten travel books such as Lawrence Durrell's memoir of Cyprus Bitter Lemons and Robert Byron's classic account of travels in Cyprus, Persia and Afghanistan The Road to Oxiana. Indeed, a Byron comment like `History in this island is almost too profuse. ...


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